Toxicology and applied pharmacology

Impaired NFAT and NFκB activation are involved in suppression of CD40 ligand expression by Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol in human CD4(+) T cells.

PMID 23999542


We have previously reported that Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ(9)-THC), the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, suppresses CD40 ligand (CD40L) expression by activated mouse CD4(+) T cells. CD40L is involved in pathogenesis of many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. In the present study, we investigated the molecular mechanism of Δ(9)-THC-mediated suppression of CD40L expression using peripheral blood human T cells. Pretreatment with Δ(9)-THC attenuated CD40L expression in human CD4(+) T cells activated by anti-CD3/CD28 at both the protein and mRNA level, as determined by flow cytometry and quantitative real-time PCR, respectively. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that Δ(9)-THC suppressed the DNA-binding activity of both NFAT and NFκB to their respective response elements within the CD40L promoter. An assessment of the effect of Δ(9)-THC on proximal T cell-receptor (TCR) signaling induced by anti-CD3/CD28 showed significant impairment in the rise of intracellular calcium, but no significant effect on the phosphorylation of ZAP70, PLCγ1/2, Akt, and GSK3β. Collectively, these findings identify perturbation of the calcium-NFAT and NFκB signaling cascade as a key mechanistic event by which Δ(9)-THC suppresses human T cell function.